Sudan Irrigation Minister: Political will needed to crack no-deal dam deadlock
Sudan, Egypt, and Ethiopia have failed during their latest round of negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) to reach an agreement on the draft, which was supposed to be submitted to the African Union by Friday.
A statement from the Sudanese Ministry of Irrigation said that the three countries agreed to end the current round of negotiations without agreeing on the combined draft agreement that was supposed to be submitted to the Presidency of the African Union on Friday, August 28, provided that the option is left to each country to address the African Union presidency separately.
Sudan’s Irrigation Minister Yasir Abbas reiterated that” reaching an agreement requires political will” and that “continuing negotiations in their current form will not lead to achieving practical results”.
The Sudanese delegation confirmed that negotiations are the only way to reach an agreement and that it will be ready to resume negotiations at any time after communicating with the African Union presidency.
On Monday, Sudan and Ethiopia issued a joint statement at the end of a one-day visit to Khartoum by the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed in which he held lengthy talks with Sudanese Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok and also met with the head of the Sovereign Council, Lt Gen Abdelfattah El Burhan.
The statement said the visit by Ethiopia’s prime minister comes within the framework of “the continuous consultations between the leaderships of Sudan and Ethiopia, underpinned by the age-old relationship between the two sisterly countries.”
In March 2011, Ethiopia announced its plans to build a large dam at the Blue Nile, in the Benishangul-Gumuz region, about 15 to 40 km east of the border with Sudan, as a jointly funded, owned, and operated project between the three countries. Egypt and Sudan vehemently opposed the proposal. They claimed adverse effects on their Nile water rights and interests. Khartoum later softened its position.
The countries signed a Declaration of Principles in Khartoum in March 2015 as a basis for negotiations, but no breakthrough on the use of the Nile waters has been made since. Months-long talks under auspices of the US administration in Washington earlier this year failed as well.
After renewed talks between the three water ministers, initiated by Khartoum, failed in June, a new round started on July 3, this time mediated by the African Union, which, after 10 days, again ended without tangible results. The main outstanding points are in the legal and technical tracks, the Sudanese Irrigation Minister explained at the time.
Addis Ababa has indicated on several occasions that, even without an agreement, it will start filling the reservoir in July, while construction work continues. It needs more hydropower as only 25 per cent of the population has access to electricity. Cairo however has warned that Ethiopia will not be able to unilaterally fill the dam without consequences. Egypt relies on the Nile for more than 90 per cent of its water.
With the start of the rainy season, the dam is now holding back water. Ethiopia said on Tuesday that the first phase was already achieved because of good rainfall during the rainy season in the Horn of Africa country and the dam is overflowing.
The dam, when finished in 2022, will have a reservoir with a volume of more than 74 billion cubic metres, and a capacity of 6,450 megawatts,
The Blue Nile contributes approximately 85 per cent to the volume of the main Nile River.
Kenya and peers in the Nile Basin want the AU to continue mediating in the dam as they fear external influence may derail the search for a deal.
At a meeting of the AU Bureau of Heads of States on Tuesday, President Uhuru Kenyatta said the three countries should continue working through the AU as each one’s interests will be assured.
“This process has vividly shown that ‘African solutions to African problems’ is the way to go. We can resolve our disputes through negotiations and mediation within the framework of the African Union,” the president said.
In addition to Kenya, White Nile riparian countries like Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda support Ethiopia’s right to build the dam.
The Nile Basin Initiative, a multilateral forum for all eleven riparian states (Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, South Sudan, and Eritrea) established in 1999, has been weakened because of the tensions caused by the Ethiopian dam.
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